Review: Boney’s Funky Christmas from Boney James

[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]

Boney's Funky Christmas from Boney JamesThe ads for Boney’s first holiday release call this “the album to put on after you put the kids to bed.” Sure enough, Boney’s Funky Christmas features the seductive grooves you know the saxman for. This is the smoothest Christmas release I’ve heard in the last two years. Boney’s stamp on these songs (mostly traditional holiday tunes) is distinctive and the rhythms and production by his longtime producer, Paul Brown are top notch. Boney is especially tender on the Chris Eaton/Amy Grant composition “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” He has able assistance on the album from guest vocalists Dee Harvey (on “This Christmas”) and Bobby Caldwell (on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”). Rick Braun guests on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Although the other eight tracks are in the silky r&b vein, Boney also tries his hand at a stripped down sound with just him and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa on “Jingle Bells.” Overall, this is one of the most solid contemporary jazz holiday releases and one that will be enjoyed for years to come.

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Obituary: Nick Webb

LOS ANGELES (Variety) – Guitarist and composer Nick Webb, a founding member of the contemporary jazz group Acoustic Alchemy, died in London Thursday from cancer, the group’s publicist said. He was 43.
Webb, a native of England, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago, and at the time of his death was finishing work on the Grammy-nominated group’s 10th album, Positive Thinking, publicist David Millman said.
“Nick was a sweet, wonderful man and a wonderful friend,” said Webb’s chief collaborator, Greg Carmichael, who formed Acoustic Alchemy with Webb in 1987.

“Though this past year was quite difficult for him, Nick managed to write some of the most beautiful music of his life. If there’s any silver lining, it’s knowing that, ’till the very end, he was doing what he loved and that he was surrounded by his adoring family,” Carmichael said in a statement.

Webb is survived by his wife, Kay, and their daughter, Alexandra. Private services were held in his home county of Wiltshire, England.

Review: Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party

Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party

Warner Bros. gathered its jazz and contemporary jazz rosters to put together the label’s first holiday collection. But, unlike other label holiday albums, Jazz Christmas Party, doesn’t just feature submitted tracks from its artists. WB artists collaborated together on several songs on this album. Bob James and Béla Fleck duet on “White Christmas. Michael Franks and Kirk Whalum work together on Franks’ “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree.” The constant on the release is the keys of the label’s big three pianists – Bob James, Brad Mehldau, and Larry Goldings. The songs aren’t exactly Christmas standards. Al Jarreau, Boney James, Bob James, and Larry Goldings perform on Kenny Loggins and Bob James’s “Celebrate Me Home.” Whalum lays down his gospel sound on “A Cradle of Bethlehem.” New WB vocalist Gabriela Anders delivers a great debut on her original “Our First Christmas.” The musicianship on the album is top-notch, from the headliners to the rhythm provided by James Genus, Larry Grenadier, Jorge Rossy, and Billy Kilson.

Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party is a seasonal album that all jazz fans will enjoy.

t r a c k s
(note that several musicians play on several other tracks)

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – Joshua Redman; “Celebrate Me Home” – Al Jarreau; “A Cradle In Bethlehem” – Kirk Whalum; “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree” – Michael Franks; “Our First Christmas” – Gabriela Anders; “Silent Night” – Larry Goldings and Brad Mehldau; “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” – Boney James; “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – Kevin Mahogany; “Pure Imagination” – Mark Turner; “Christmas Time Is Here” – Brad Mehldau Trio; “Personent Hodie (Sing Aloud This Day)” – Bob James Trio; “White Christmas” – Béla Fleck and Bob James

Review: Is Love Enough? from George Duke

Is Love Enough? from George Duke

George Duke says he “stretched a little more into the funk area on this one because I had so many people ask me to.” Think he’s kidding? The first half of Is Love Enough?, which is much more like his previous Warner Bros. albums Snapshot and Illusions than last year’s Muir Woods Suite, is heavy on the funk and slow jams. On the opening of “Kinda Low,” Duke, bassist Byron Miller, and drummer Ndugu Chancler declare “Once ya funky, ya always funky!” The groove is deep, with the sole exception of the sweet “Fill the Need.” Duke gets jazzier after the instrumental “Time and Space” interlude (futuristic instrumentals open and close the album). After Duke’s uptempo “Back in the Day” instrumental, he lets Jonathan Butler and Dianne Reeves take over “This Place I Call Home.” Dori Caymmi is featured on “Whatever Happened To…” Duke pulls in many of his frequent partners, including Everette Harp, Rachelle Ferrell, Phil Perry, and George Howard. Also appearing on the album are Doc Powell and Norman Brown. Of his fellow musicians, Duke says “each of you brought gourmet dishes to the musical table.” Is Love Enough? features a table with equal portions of funk and contemporary jazz. Whether you enjoy one or the other, or both, you’ll feel satisfied.

> Buy the CD/download MP3 tracks from Amazon.com

Obituary: Zachary Breaux 1960-1997

Zachary Charles Breaux died February 20, 1997 after attempting to save a drowning woman in the ocean off Miami Beach. According to the Associated Press, Breaux suffered a heart attack after being brought to shore. The woman also died. Breaux had previously saved a man from drowning, while on tour in Italy in 1988.

Zachary Breaux was born in Port Arthur, Texas. He began playing guitar at the age of 11 after practicing the clarinet for two years. His interest in jazz was inspired by his high school band director. He majored in Music Composition at North Texas State University, where he enjoyed listening to Wes Mongomery, Charlie Christian, and Dizzy Gillespie. He played with musicians such as Noel Pointer, Ronnie Laws, Jon Lucien, and most notably Roy Ayers, which whom Breaux would perform through 1993 when he decided to embark on a solo career. Breaux’s playing was brought to the attention of NYC Records president Mike Mainieri, who promptly asked Breaux to contribute a track to the Beatles guitar tribute album he was releasing. Mainieri released Breaux’s first two solo albums on NYC. The first, released in 1993, was an album recorded at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. Groovin’ featured Breaux originals and compositions by other writers, as well as an acid jazz version of John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” The follow-up album, Laid Back, was released the following year. Breaux had recently resurfaced on Zebra Records, where his album, Uptown Groove, has been performing very well.

Mainieri had said of Breaux, “I’ve personally had the pleasure of performing with Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and George Benson, and Zachary’s own ‘voice’ on the guitar keeps the lineage alive with eloquence and passion.”

Zachary Breaux is survived by his wife, Frederica, and three daughters, ages 14, 12 and 6, as well as six brothers and sisters and his parents.